Here’s Part IV of the Tom Bombadil article. Please bear with me – it’ll soon be concluded 😉
1.6 Tolkien’s Letters
During his life, Tolkien wrote a substantial amount of letters to relatives, publishers and admirers alike. Many of these contained thoughts about his mythology, tackling clarifications and requests that people often sent him – pertaining to his stories.
From The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, we are able to discover those letters that somehow relate to the character of Tom Bombadil.
First of all, for Tolkien, Bombadil represented the vanishing country-side of Oxford and Berkshire.
Let us start by analyzing one of the letters, more specifically Letter 144, written in 1954. Among other things, it states:
“Tom Bombadil is not an important person – to the narrative. I suppose he has some importance as a ‘comment’ … he is just an invention … and he represents something that I feel important … I would not, however, have left him in, if he did not have some kind of function. … Ultimately, only the victory of the West will allow Bombadil to continue, or even to survive. Nothing would be left for him in the world of Sauron.”
So from this paragraph, it seems clear that Tom’s survival, or at least his will to keep on living, depended completely on the victory of good over evil. Having Sauron dominating Middle-earth, the natural world would be destroyed in its wake – leaving Tom with nothing to care for. And even though Tolkien states that he is “not an important person”, he still goes on to say that his inclusion in The Lord of the Rings wasn’t entirely without a reason.
Proceeding to another letter, we come across the matter of the “Master” and what its signification entails. Here follows the piece in question from Letter 153 written in 1954:
“Lots of other characters are called Master; and if ‘in time’ Tom was primeval he was Eldest in Time… he has no fear, and no desire of possession or domination at all. He merely knows and understands about such things as concern him in his natural little realm. He hardly even judges, and as far as can be seen makes no effort to reform or remove the Willow… I do not mean him to be an allegory … but ‘allegory’ is the only mode of exhibiting certain functions: he is then an ‘allegory’ … a particular embodying of pure (real) natural science: the spirit that desires knowledge of other things, their history and nature…”
So, in Tolkien’s words, Tom Bombadil can be considered as being a spirit, or guardian. He is someone who has no control over others and is not concerned with amending things which seem to be ‘wrong’. It seems as if he takes no sides whatsoever and that his principal interest lies within “his natural little realm” i.e. the Old Forest.
There is also a footnote to this letter:
“Only the first person (of worlds or anything) can be unique. If you say he is there must be more than one, and created (sub) existence is implied.”
Is Tolkien implying that there are more creatures like Tom Bombadil in Middle-Earth? One might think this is the case …
1.7 Thoughts and conclusions
From all these discussions, quotations and poems, I have just begun to make up my own interpretation of what Tom Bombadil is.
What I have tried to achieve in this article was mainly to gather all possible information on this character and add up everything together in one single piece of work (or rather, four parts).
It seems clear therefore that Tolkien certainly didn’t want his readers to fully understand who and what Tom Bombadil really was andhe believed that this kind of enigma was essential to his stories.
To me, Tom Bombadil is a spirit whose main purpose in Middle-Earth is to represent the purity and harmony of Nature.
He lies within his own boundaries in the Old Forest and will remain there until an indefinite time. With regards to his origins, I believe that he was one of those who came into Arda before it was fashioned by the Valar and thus witnessed the major events that we find in The Silmarillion.
He definitely is not Ilúvatar himself and neither a Vala; and with regards to being a Maia, I tend to believe this to a certain extent. It seems clear to me that Tom Bombadil had no desire for any changes whether for good or bad – even though he is represented as benign individual.
After all, the Ainur consisted of more than just Valar and Maiar. In The Silmarillion, specifically the ‘Valaquenta’, we are told:
“ whether of the Valar and the Maiar, or of any other order that Ilúvatar has sent into Eä.”
It is therefore possible that other spirits and beings came into the world apart from the Valar and Maiar; and it would seem that Tom Bombadil was indeed one of these.
To put it in a simpler way – I see him as Mother Nature (or in this case, Father Nature!). A creature whose influence (even though he restricting himself within physical boundaries) is reflected upon all the natural world – unless of course, there are others like him who tend to carry out the same task.
Whilst in Bombadil’s house, in his dream he sees “a far green country opened before him under a swift sunrise”.
We get this vision also at the end of The Return of the King, when Frodo is actually going to the Undying Lands and is reminded of the same dream he had in the house of Tom Bombadil.
This act seems to complete a circle in the narrative, where both ends are linked together and points strongly towards Bombadil being one of the Ainur that form part of Tolkien’s mythology
In conclusion, I tend to think Tom Bombadil as a representative figure of nature – someone who doesn’t really care about the events of the world, as long as the natural things are safe.
He is an embodiment of Middle-earth: constituting all it’s beauty, weakness, power, majesty and strength. Elements which are untouchable by evil and beyond anything physical – relating directly from the essence of Eru Ilúvatar.
[Part V concludes this in-depth analysis by focusing on the character of Goldberry]
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